Rebuilding a 165 sqm store that has been vacant for the past 20 years, upgrading the infrastructure and functionality to transform it into a café and event venue has been the core mission of the GENAU project: GEmeinsam Neu AUfbauen (´Rebuilding together´). It finally saw light in the summer of 2020 and now invites refugees living in Oberhausen with non-permanent residence to make the newly renovated space, in the main train station, theirs. This is a place where they can host people who have been living in Oberhausen for a long time. It is also a place for people who are passing by or for visitors who are interested in culture. 

All conducted activities are made to open teaching workshops that go beyond the design aspect of the place and are linked to direct vocational orientation measures. In addition, creative workshops (painting, literature and theater, among others) will be organised in the renovated area, establishing it – initially with and for those primarily addressed by GENAU – as a creative, artistic space as well. 

Especially refugees who have legal residential status often have to struggle with a negative perception from the population and are often objectified in social debates. This creation of an „us“ and a „them“ blocks communication at eye level and creates a great distance between seemingly different groups. This leads to multiple restrictions: the free development of newcomers, the unbiased view of long-term residents and the view of potential employers. 

We want to change this narrative and these practices. We want to create space to tell new stories and create images in which migrants, especially those who are the most vulnerable in terms of residence rights, are no longer objects but active members of our society. 

The concept was designed before the pandemic, therefore many things needed to be changed. We tried not to postpone our activities but rather adapt them to the situation, as in times of crisis creating common visions is even more important. 

Doing so, we started with the renovation of another smaller room to initiate contact with possible future participants and employ them for a few months. This small project was successfully finished in April 2021 and the three people that were hired are now part of the participants of GENAU. 

From February onwards our participants can attend language courses twice a week, a language café, legal and everyday advisory services as well as job orientation. These activities take place in cooperation with local partner initiatives and serve as a framework of the project, to provide as much safety to the participants as possible. 

Organising workshops were the most problematic aspect of the changes due to the pandemic, but we finally managed to start in June: a combination of online and on-site work. 

We remain motivated to get things done and will continue to find solutions.

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